We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Hidden Electric Consumption

You may have gathered my tendency to be energy conserving in my daily life. It's almost a game with me to see how little energy I can consume without going "cavewoman". Each time I find a new energy saving measure to adopt I glow with excitement!

Through the years I've heard snippets about energy hogs, ways to save energy, and some of the hidden electric consumption problems with "improved" technology. And for years I just couldn't be bothered. I mean, how inconvenient to unplug your TV in between uses just to save a little bit of energy!

But the bug bit me. Maybe it was a little lightning bug, but I try to be "bothered" more these days: we unplug our toothbrush charger in between uses; my bedside light and phone charger are on a power strip that I turn off when I'm going to be away for awhile; we bought an energy efficient TV when it was time to replace our media room TV.

I feel I can make the biggest energy consumption difference in my office since that impacts only me (My Bigger Half isn't wild about walking around the house in the dark or eating cold, raw food). Here is the electric office equipment I have in my office:

  • laptop computer
  • external monitor
  • wireless mouse and keyboard, the transmitter is electric
  • printer
  • scanner
  • battery charger, which is plugged in only when I'm charging batteries
  • cell phone base
  • camera charger
  • recording studio lights
  • weather station computer
  • 13" CRT TV
  • DVD player
  • VHS player
  • phones
  • lamp
  • emergency dispatch radio for our EMS volunteering efforts
  • copier
  • and of course my sewing center
The first five items are on a power strip.

When I decided to write this article I started measuring the energy consumption of my computer setup. We have a Kill A Watt meter (links below) to help us determine my electric consumption, so that's what I used.

Electric Meter: Kill A Watt
Kill A Watt Meter

Electric Meter: Kill A Watt EZ
Kill A Watt EZ Meter

I normally turn the external monitor off at night and hibernate my computer, though the power strip stays "on". This is what I'm talking about: that approach burns 7W. That's not all that much, but when you stop to add it up that's 61.32 kWh a year -- for just my computer setup while it's all turned off. The copier and sewing center don't pull any current when in the off positions.

I decided to experiment with other arrangements of my computer's energy consumption. When the computer is sitting there powered up, but not being used, it uses on average 20W -- and it's only that low because it's a laptop, which uses much less energy than a typical desktop model. But even the power consumption from my more-efficient laptop adds up: if it was left on all the time, it would use 175.20 kWh in a year, which in my area costs $22.78 -- for an energy efficient computer setup.

I figure if I work at my computer the consumed watts increase because the laptop screen and the external monitor stay on longer. But I don't leave my computer on all the time: I shut it down when I won't be using it for many hours, and I generally shut it down overnight. Turning the power strip off gets consumption down to 0W, as you would expect.

My lesson? If I really want to save as much energy as possible I would turn the power strip off whenever I wasn't working at the computer, rather than only turning it off only when I'd be gone for a few days. Of course, those costs will go up over time: energy is more expensive every year, so from an economic standpoint this gets more important every year. Environmentally, every kWh of power saved also saves 1.297 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, according to CarbonFund.org. By measuring other electronics in the house I can expand my knowledge and can expand my energy saving actions.

I do keep my mixer and bread maker unplugged when I'm not using them. But the coffee and teapots stay plugged in when not in use. The new TV (Vizio 32" EcoHD) is an energy saving model, meaning it's a slow on -- not instant as many TVs are. It'll be interesting at some point to compare energy consumption of the different TVs in the house; all are different ages and sizes, and consumption -- on or off, so should make for an interesting report.

Ok, so it's obvious that if you want to save electricity you just use less. The trick is to know what consumes electricity, how much, and when. Without measuring you are just guessing and can't be as effective. How committed are you to saving energy? Measure and decide.

Two Kill A Watt Meter models to buy:

  1. The basic Kill A Watt

    This is the model we have, and it's quite adequate.

  2. The Kill A Watt EZ model

    With this one, you can put in the cost of a kWh of power at your location, and it calculates how much an appliance uses over time. I don't find that worth the extra cost.


Hey Kitt very helpfull article but needed 1 extra piece of info. When your laptop used 7W was that per hour. Is there some standard time frame used when measuring electric use. Thanks a bunch and hope you have many adventures.
It's not a life - It's an adventure... all ya' gotta do is live it

butch holland...georgia at July 31, 2010 4:05 PM

I'm pretty much into green stuff, too, so of course was interested in reading your post.

I started about three years ago gradually reducing my electricity, and made some difference. In my apartment, which is small (a little over 500 square feet, one bedroom), I have two air-conditioners, one in the bedroom, the other in the living room. The one in the living room just stopped one day. I had used it the day before, but the next day, when I turned it on, nothing happened. As I have both a floor fan and a ceiling fan in the room, I never have gotten it repaired. Coincidentally, shortly thereafter my bedroom air-conditioner needed recharged with freon -- and I skipped that, too; I have a ceiling fan in there as well.

Cutting out the air-conditioners REALLY made a difference. And I live in the tropics -- Bangkok. The hot season here is about March-May, and even during that stretch, I did just fine.

My bills used to average, in US dollars, around $80-100 per month, depending on the season (and exchange rate; I get my income from the US, so hve to go through that). Now, my average electric bill (since last November, when the living room aircon went kaput) averages a pretty steady $30 a month or so. And I'm not doing *everything* I could -- for instance, I'm retired and sit on my computer for hours and hours on end every day -- and have the TV on in the background constantly, too, set to a local English-language news channel.

My lighting, except for two beside lamps, is all flourescent. While that's not as good as compact bulbs, it's better than incandescent. And having lived in Asia, where such lighting is the norm in ordinary apartments like mine (I live in a Thai neighborhood with only three or four other foreigners anywhere around) for practically all of the last 25 years, I'm used to such lighting. And I use my bedisde lamps only when I'm in bed reading. I am thinking about install compact lighting, though I don't know how much difference that'll make, as I use lighting conservatively.

My energy vampires -- cell phone charge, for instance -- I do have on power strips or unplug. That helps a wee bit.

I also conserve when I coook, at least sometimes. For instance, I'll buy a roast and put it in my crockpot, then slice it up when it's done and put several baggies of it in the freezer, and use my microwave to warm it later. I also cook several servings of vegetables at once then refrigerate them. I don't know how much that helps, but I figure it must cut back at least a little on electricity. Since much of our electricity in Bangkok comes from coal-fired power plants, I also guess every little bit helps. With as many as 20 million people in Greater Bangkok (depending on whose figures you believe), if everyone does even a little, it adds up.

I also cut my water usage draswtically two ways. First, I take military-style showers, i.e., as fast as I can. Second, I no longer use the coin operated washing machines in my complex. I hand wash my socks, underwear, wash cloths, etc., though I do take my pants, shirts, large towels, and bed linens to a laundry here in the complex -- they have water- and energy-efficient machines. (And it's cheap -- I pay a flat $.20 per item, "item" being anything from a single sock to a blanket. But to get that price, I pay a lump sum of just over $16 at current exchange rates and the folks at the laundry keep track, and tell me when it's time to pay up again.)

The nature of my apartment is such that there's not much else I can do. I do open my doors, etc. to aid in cooling. Of course, I don't have to deal with heating -- the record low here since records began being kept was something like 58 degrees, and that happened since I've been here; it was maybe ten years ago. Normally, even in the cool season, lows tend not to dip below the mid-to-upper 60's. I also don't use gas; there aren't even any gas lines in this complex. Well, I take it back -- I do have a single burner gas "stove" like you can take camping that uses cans of gas. But even if I use that every day, one can lasts me at least ten days or so. I'm single, so that holds everything down as well, naturally.

I would love to use solar power, but my apartment gets virtually *no* direct sunlight, which means I would have to put panels on the roof my my nine-floor building -- and the owner won't allow it. Which is understandable; there's not enough room for everyone in the building to have their own panels. Nor is the owner interested in installing a concentrated solar arrangement, and I can't say that I blame him. I live in central Bangkok, where space is very much at a major premium -- think Manhatten.

The only other biggie I can do doesn't involve my home, but rather my traveling. I rarely go much more than half a mile from home. I happen to be located a couple of blocks down a narrow lane, and there's just about everything I need in daily life located along it. There's even a 7-Eleven! (There are over 5,400 7-Elevens in Thailand -- about half of them in Bangkok alone!) There are restaurants, street vendors selling prepared food, household items, and fruits and vegetables, an electrical repair shop, a carpentry shop, etc etc. etc. About the only thing I have to leave the lane for is medical care -- and there's a hospital-clinic about a mile away. There are two superstores a 15-minute walk away.

I do take taxis -- the "main drag," a two-lane street to which my tiny lane connects, doesn't have any buses or I would use them. But I try to combine my trips. The single biggest trip I ever have to take is rare -- when I go to the airport, which is about 20 miles away. I *could* go by bus, but taking two hours and stopping on practically every corner isn't something I want to do. I did it ONCE, and we got stuck in traffic to the point I missed the last flight of the day to my destination. (It took over three hours that day.) So, I do take a taxi there and back, though that's wasteful.

So, I don't own so much as a bicycle.

All in all, I save maybe $60-70 a month. While not a king's ransom, it is an appreciable amount over a year's time -- it'll just about pay for a roundtrip ticket all the way to Texas, where I grew up and my family members are, if I go economy class. I rarely go, however -- been there only seven times in 25 years, and two of those were emergency trips I otherwise would not have made. I know a 9,000 mile trip is hell on the environment, but I do draw a line *somewhere* in what I'll give up -- and seeing my family every few years isn't on the list of things I'll pass up.

Some of my friends make fun of my green efforts, arguing one person isn't going to make a difference. They simply ignore my counter-argument that while that's true, if 6.7 BILLION of us each do a little, we can make a HUGE difference. But those friends drive SUV's -- alone, to go a few blocks to the store, live in 5,000-square-foot homes though their kids are grown and gone, etc. In other words, not the least BIT green! :-) So, I just grin and bear it.

Nice website -- I've been following your husband for years --

Mekhong Kurt at July 31, 2010 7:14 PM


Watts (W) aren't a measure of consumption over time; kilowatt hours (kWhs) are that measure. The best analogy I can share is that a watt is like wire gauge, or the size of the pipe.

The size of the pipe (watts) is how much is consumed at one time. The actual consumption over time is kilowatt hours.

The formula for converting watts into kWhs over a year, using my computer's 7Ws as an example, is (7W x N-hrs x 365 days)/1000. To convert that to an annual consumption you multiple it by your electric rate (mine is $.13/hour).

Your confusion is common. I even have to refresh my understanding every so often.

Thanks for asking.


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 10:25 AM

Mekhong Kurt,

You're my kind of environmentalist. Thanks for sharing!


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 10:27 AM

I actually tried doing this recently - turning off power strips to entertainment center & computer - when not in use...the very first time I did it, my computer fried...I thought it was just a coincidence. About a week later, all of a sudden my big-screen TV went haywire - all buttons acted like the power button, couldn't change inputs, volume, etc. I finally unplugged it & left it off a while & it reset whatever was wrong, but I've stopped turning off the power strips regularly...something bad happening once is a coincidence, something happening twice within a week - it's not worth it to save power if I have to replace my TV/Computer.

Genie at August 4, 2010 8:44 PM

Genie, I agree that replacing a TV isn't the most energy-, environmentally-, or budget-friendly approaches to life. And I don't know what to say about your problem. I'd love to have an electrical engineer chime in here and share their knowledge of the situation. I've never had the problem you are reporting, but then I haven't yet started turning off the power strip our TV is plugged into.


Kit Cassingham at August 12, 2010 2:37 PM

I see this a lot on the internet. People seem to think that a cell phone charger still continues to consume energy while it's plugged in, but not charging anything. Part of the thought that even transformers aren't perfect and there is still energy loss. That's true in the very most minute detail, but in reality, if everyone in America left their cell phone charger plugged in, but not charging, for an entire year. the total cost for ALL of them would be hard put to approach $1.

For lights, or lamps, a lot of people believe that, since the light switch only disconnects one side of the lamp, power is still connected to the other side, and there is some kind of power leakage through air, or something like that. If that were true, then even disconnecting both sides of the light bulb would still allow power leakage just from the wiring inside the walls.

Not to be deprecating about anyone's efforts to curb energy waste, but just to say that not everything needs to be unplugged to do the job.

Mike at August 20, 2010 10:46 PM

Just saw the comment about sudden power outages frying the computer and/or TV. As an electrical engineer for 40 years, I'm here to tell you that power supplies are power supplies, no matter what they're powering. There are a wide variety of different types, but none of them are prone to damage simply by removing power. Everytime you lose power during a storm, why, you'd have to replace your TV or computer. However, it could happen coincidentally. In electronics, if something is going to break down, it will do it most often during power-up or power-down, and then only on tired components that have been operating for years.

There are extremely heavy-power industrial applications in which equipment must be powered down by a sequence, but there is nothing in the consumer world that will suffer just because somebody yanked the wall plug out.

Mike at August 21, 2010 12:52 PM


Thanks for your comment about not everything sucking power just because it's plugged in. Since people don't always know what does, or doesn't, keep drawing power when turned off, using the Kill A Watt is an excellent way to learn. It's a great tool for a great cause.

While I appreciate that the cost of many electric items is low, it's not just the cost I'm focused on. The hidden costs of burning electricity are even more important -- burning coal and natural gas (and the costs in making them available to burn), transmission line losses (and the cost of having transmission lines), bad air quality (and the cost of cleaning up the air), etc -- are what I'm lobbying against.

If everyone used less energy we'd all be in better shape, IMHO.


Kit Cassingham at August 21, 2010 3:07 PM

Using less energy, no disagreement there at all. I've spent much more money on energy-saving light bulbs (CFL's) than I'll ever save in electric costs. But I buy them simply because it does do my little part in reducing consumption. Also, if somebody leaves a light on all night long and I don't discover it, at least I'm wasting 75% less power than I would with a cheaper bulb. Again, it's not the cost, but the waste, and even leaving a CFL on all night pisses me off.

However, just to reassure people, leaving a charger plugged in, doesn't really use energy even on a minute scale. Nor does leaving a lamp plugged in when the power is switched off. RF energy (radio waves) in the air actually contain more energy.

Mike at August 21, 2010 9:30 PM
Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

Please wait. Your comment is being processed ...